Theory to Practice

How master-apprentice relationships influence haute cuisine

Our study explored the role of a special kind of affiliation apprentice and accomplished master in shaping the way creative professionals build their product offerings. 

The context

Apprenticeships are a very common kind of affiliation among creative professionals in fields such as architecture, advertising, fashion, design, cinema, fine art, and haute cuisine. The aim is to attain recognition, acquire technical skills, and learn the practices and the rules of the field in question. When the affiliation comes to an end, former apprentices need to decide the extent to which their own products will resemble those of the masters they learned from.

In our research we focused on this specific type of affiliation (i.e. apprenticeships), hypothesizing a negative association between how much of a rebel a master may be and the similarity between the product offerings of the former apprentice and that master. We empirically tested our hypotheses in the context of high-end restaurants, which are places where conventions exist, inventions are made, and identities are forged. Generally speaking, the career paths for professional in the kitchen are deeply shaped by their training. They begin their careers with a formal apprenticeship and, by collaborating with their successful colleagues, they acquire skills and earn status. So, we can say that the position of chef is defined by affiliations established over time.

The study

In our investigation, we focused mainly on creative choices at three levels:

  • individual (a person’s social position);
  • organizational (hierarchical structure and geographical location of a company, and channels of communication that impact access to new ideas)
  • inter-organizational (social relationships between organizations).

We began the data collection process by asking 12 food experts to name chefs who could be considered masters of haute cuisine in Europe from the 1980s on. (The experts we asked included heads of international and national restaurants, food critics, journalists, and top chefs who were not a part of our sample.) These experts gave us 13 names: Ferran Adrià, Georges Blanc, Heston Blumenthal, Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Pierre Koffman, Alain Passard, Joel Robuchon, Albert Roux, Guy Savoy, Pierre Troisgros and Marco Pierre White.

Next, we studied the work and the careers of the chefs who served as apprentices in the restaurants of these masters. We looked at all the restaurants they worked in during their careers (and the relative timelines), their roles in the kitchen, and the style of the restaurants. We also collected data on the various types of awards these restaurants may have earned (for example, Michelin stars or Best Restaurant awards). When possible, we also analyzed the relative menus. To identify the former apprentices of the 13 masters, we used the website Since our aim was to determine the impact of the masters on the decisions of their apprentices in terms of product offerings, we selected only former apprentices who were head chefs in 2011 in a restaurant other than the one where their masters worked. The reason for this is that only the head chef decides on the menu of a restaurant.

We repeated our data collection process for the same chefs in 2013 and obtained a panel of data on 194 chefs (active in 2011 and 2013) for a total of 388 observations.

Conclusions and takeaways

This study furthers our understanding of the mechanisms with which apprenticeships spark innovation in creative industries in light of at least two aspects:

  • The ways in which creative professionals develop their personal style: they can leverage an apprenticeship to demonstrate their individuality, to be accepted in their field, and to stand out from their peers.
  • The timing of the affiliation relative to the career stage is significant: being creative may be the result of not only crossing boundaries or connecting with ‘rebel masters’ but may also spring from an attempt to connect with a master at a specific stage in one’s career.

Our article offers evidence that the pressure to conform to a specific, high-profile identity is exerted through affiliations: high-status actors are more likely to be imitated. What’s more, in general it is safer for apprentices to replicate their masters rather than diverging from them in terms of product offering. We also empirically prove that when creative professional apprentice later in their careers, ‘rebel masters’ (in particular if they are not high profile) can encourage their apprentices to break away from conventions and standards and to rewrite the existing rules.

This study has clear implications for both creative professionals and organizations in general. When such professionals have a master, a teacher or a manager who challenges the norms of a field, this could influence their decisions on how they want to be identified as well as their behaviors. Each time there is a master-apprentice relationship between two individuals, the teaching process affects both on the knowledge the apprentice acquires and their identity, in particular in fields such as haute cuisine, where a clear, recognizable identity is seen as a mark of distinction by the general public.